What Is A Signet Ring And Why Wear One?

Is the signet ring one of the last true hallmarks of authenticity?

It was as reliable as a signature, a seal of authenticity that branded a document. In a world where the majority of men were illiterate, the signet ring became their writing instrument. An instrument responsible for signing some of the most historical documents long ago.

This is where the story begins.

On the hands of rulers and world leaders, potentates and their officers. What began with a fundamental purpose, soon became a mark of nobility, of status that sealed a man’s place in the history books.

In Ancient Rome, Greece and throughout history, the signet ring was one of the most valuable items a gentleman could have. The men who relied on them kept them under lock and key, only to bring them out as needed when signing a deed, will or other important documents.

signet ring meaning definition

As the decades passed and monarchs adopted more ornate attire, the signet ring went from practical and simplistic to fashionably eccentric. When the owner eventually died, the ring would often be destroyed with him, not handed down to his son the way it was so prominently done in the 1800s and onward.

Today, signet rings are far less necessary. For the men who do wear them, it is simply an heirloom handed down through generations. A symbol of fraternity such as belonging to the Freemasons, or a fashionable mark of sophisticated grace that, when worn correctly, elevates the style of a rakish gentleman.

Although there is a vast number of jewelers who make and sell signet rings, only a handful of them do it well. Most are machine made, or hand engraved the same as any other jewelry. But heritage makers like Rebus and Ruffs still craft these rings expressly by hand, all made to order, and all either cast or die stamped according to the buyer’s wishes.

signet ring meaning definition

An intensely personal process, there are relatively no standards of what’s acceptable in this modern world. Designs range from the traditional crest, monogram, and coat of arms to more contemporary skulls, logos and tattoo-inspired artwork.

There seem to be two types of buyers these days. The first is the traditional gentleman who prizes quality craftsmanship and places value on the importance of an heirloom-quality bespoke ring. The second is the young man with interest in flashy bling and who will wear it with white sneakers and a body full of other bling. So the question begs to be asked about what type of ring a classic dandy should consider.

Well, that depends on your price.

Signet rings are not cheap. You could certainly visit a local jeweler and have one made, but it won’t have the same panache as the real thing. For that, you need to purchase a vintage ring on eBay or visit a purveyor that specializes in bespoke signet rings such as Rebus, Ruffs or Dexter if your budget is on the lower end.

Available in sterling silver, platinum, and white, yellow or rose gold, the signet ring increases in price not just based on the materials used, but also the complexity of the design. Since each ring is custom made by hand, having an intricate coat of arms engraved in reverse is far more complicated than a simple initial. With history in mind, this deep reverse engraving ensures that like the rings of antiquity, you can use it as a seal ring to create a wax impression that is an accurate three-dimensional representation of the ring’s artwork.

For years, men have struggled with the question of whether to wear a signet ring with the seal facing towards them, or away from them. This is a common question asked by Freemasons, who often postulate whether the Square and Compasses should point to them or away.

There are many schools of thought on this. Some believe that the seal is a reminder of your duty to family or the association the seal belongs to. Therefore, they believe it should be worn facing you as a constant reminder in times of trial and tribulation.

Others believe the ring is a symbol to the outside world and should be worn facing them and not you.

There is no correct answer. However, after writing numerous articles on signet rings and lecturing on the topic, it is my belief that the ring should be worn facing outwards. As a symbol to the world showcasing what you stand for. The same as if we wear a necklace with a pendant on it, the pendant faces outwards and down, not up in the direction of our face.

An even more difficult question to answer is what finger the signet ring should grace.

signet ring meaning definition

With ten fingers, there are ten answers and various reasons behind each one. Traditionally, this depends on you and your background. Those who wear signet rings as jewels in the Middle East will often wear very bold and ornate rings on the thumb or middle finger. This is certainly a statement piece which is why it’s worn on the boldest digits. In parts of the developing world many believe that the finger a signet ring is worn on should be decided based on astrology or other beliefs.

However, in America and much of the first world, the most common fingers to wear a signet ring on are the pinky, the ring finger and the forefinger. The pink is the most appropriate finger for the rakish gentleman. It is less obtrusive. It doesn’t not inhibit movement or dexterity and it is far more subtle, yet still noticeable which makes it a refined and elegant choice. For unmarried men, wearing one on the ring finger in America could limit your ability when trying to court as the ring might be mistaken for a wedding band leading them to think poorly of you and negatively affecting your reputation.

In the end, how you wear your ring is entirely up to you. There are no rules, except that it is highly recommended not to wear a ring you aren’t entitled to. Even if it’s inherited. Rings such as class rings, masonic rings, military branch rings, firefighter rings are all rings which a person must earn the right to wear. It is entirely possible that wearing a ring you haven’t earned could result in inadvertently offending someone or plaguing you as a Walter Mitty.

Since these rings are crafted with such precision, they are quintessential heirloom items. With that in mind, I recommend sticking with a design your rightful heirs will be proud to wear. A simple monogram, family crest or coat of arms over a skull and crossbones, a signature or your Max, your family schnauzer.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Stylishly Yours,

J.A. Shapira
He Spoke Style

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Chime In

  • Edwin

    Great post Brian! I saw your post on IG a couple of weeks back ok signet rings and I’m very intrigued. My question is; could you possibly wear a signet ring as a wedding band? I’m not too fond on excessive jewelry and would like to kill two birds with one stone. Thanks!

    • http://www.jashapira.com/ J. A. Shapira

      Hi Edwin,

      Yes. Absolutely. Many men opt to wear a signet ring as their wedding band. In fact, the trend that these heritage makers are seeing is couples coming in and ordering his and her rings.

      J.A. Shapira

  • http://www.vipbachelorclub.com W. ADAM MANDELBAUM

    Vintage is a good way to go. Scored a vintage Masonic ring years ago, wore it on my pinkie, outside showing, and in certain circles, obtained serious special treatment. In the two lodges I belonged, all wore square and compass showing outwards.

    • http://www.jashapira.com/ J. A. Shapira

      I often end up speaking at various lodges on that very subject. I don’t often wear my ring anymore in favour of a family ring. However, when I do, I wear it with the Square and Compasses facing away from me. Vintage is certainly the way to go if you’re looking for a club ring.

      Fraternally,

      J.A. Shapira

  • tomas

    Great article.I love Signet rings and i have one, custom made by a jeweller in Silver and Gold, with a design created by me (my initials shaped to look like my Astrological Sign-Scorpio). Is it correct to use it on the ring finger of my right hand( on my ring finger of my left hand is my wedding band) or is it a faux pas? Mind you i live in Portugal and work around western Europe (Spain, France, UK and Germany.). My great grandfather had one but was confiscated when he was taken Prisioner in WWI (La Lys Battle), shame about that.
    Keep up the great work.

    TX

    • http://hespokestyle.com/ Brian Sacawa

      Thanks for sharing that story, Tomas. As you can see, I wear mine on my right hand ring finger. As J.A. mentions in the article – 10 fingers, 10 possibilities. There’s really not a wrong option.

  • Francois

    Great article, and very informative. Thank you Mr Shapira.

    I have a question for you, if you would be ever so kind as to endulge me. What karat of gold would you recommend using for an every-day signet ring? Obviously, the higher the karat, the softer the ring (therefore more prone to wear marks), and with a higher gold content, the ring will have a stronger luster.

    I guess it is mostly down to personal preference and budget, but it is as close to a “lifetime” purchase as one could think of, I would like to make the best choice, budgetary constraints aside. I would probably prefer 18k (any higher would be quite soft for a daily ring), but if you believe that to be too soft, and too prone to unnecessary wear, then I will reconsider.

    Many thanks for your advice and time.

    Sincerely,
    Francois

    • christina felicity park

      Hello Francois,

      18K gold for you signet ring won’t be “too soft”, it is softer than 14K and it’ll get scratched more easily, meaning you’ll have to get it polished more regularly. But as long as you’re not banging it everyday it should be fine. The hue of the yellow is also a bit richer than 14K. It’s not a huge difference, but if that matters, keep that in mind.

      I also think natural scratches will make it look pretty cool and rustic. But if you’re looking for a more consistent polished and clean look, 14K would be a better choice.

      -Christina

  • JustWatchingAnime

    damn, so many rich dudes in the comment section. lol

  • a guy

    Hello. I have my g-g grand fathers signate ring. Its 24k. Comes from Austria Hungry. It has a 2ct diamond in the eye of a German imperial eagle. Family legend says, it was given to him by franz-jopshef, since my g-g grand father was a count or Graff. Is there any way to test of that could be true, on the ring? Its very old, and its rubbed smooth. There is part of an inscription, on the band… Just “die” and “zu” both German. In very old script. Thank you for any help.